While it’s a Thanksgiving tradition to count one’s blessings, this year the impact and daunting reality of terrorism has given the holiday a much different tone.
There is a new reality, a new awareness that includes Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23- year- old Long Beach exchange student studying in Paris, killed in a sidewalk bistro, where she and three friends were having dinner. She was among the 129 killed in the terrorist attack and aftermath that has stunned the world.
While in the past there has been the tendency to remove oneself from the world’s atrocities, it has become more difficult to shut it out as horrific images are shared via social media almost immediately after they occur.
Also at the center of consciousness is the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been bombed out of their homes with no place to go, and the fear of welcoming them through U.S. borders.
Since the Paris attack there has been a renewed and stronger wave of anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by Presidential candidates and elected officials around the country who have suggested closing mosques, collecting Syrian refugees already in the country or creating a registry for Muslims. It is no longer considered impossible for terrorism to strike at any location.
Perhaps underlining this point, just as thousands of Southland residents hit the roads and airways for the Thanksgiving holiday, the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert this week “due to increased terrorist threats.”
The alert, which does not suggest that people should cancel travel plans, notes that ISIS and other terrorist groups “continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions,” and advises travelers to exercise caution while in public places or using public transportation and to be aware of their surroundings.
The alert will remain in effect until Feb. 24.
Increased security at Los Angeles International Airport was visible at the start of the Thanksgiving week, and officials predicted a record 2.1 million passengers will pass through the airport during the 11-day holiday period. However, there was no indication from officials that LAX may be uniquely targeted.
According to the new U.S. security alert directed at traveling Americans in general, terrorist groups “may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests.”
“U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation,” according to the alert. “Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.
“US citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities. Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country.”
The alert also advised travelers to be prepared for additional security screening and possible disruptions, and to keep in touch with relatives to ensure they can make contact in the event of an emergency.
It wasn’t clear how the alert will affect travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.
The 2.1 million passengers expected at LAX through the holiday period would set a Thanksgiving record. It would be a jump of 6.9 percent over last year’s record of 1.96 million passengers, officials said.
“As more people choose to work, visit, study and play in Los Angeles, LAX keeps on breaking records,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week.
Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Deborah Flint urged travelers to “reduce the stress of holiday travel by planning ahead and allowing extra time for getting to LAX.”
Airport officials also encouraged people headed to the airport to use public transportation, including the FlyAway bus service and Metro Green Line, to avoid congested traffic.
They also urged people who are picking up visitors at the airport to use the Cellphone Waiting Lot at 96th Street and Vicksburg to avoid circling the airport and adding to the congestion.